Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, who was jailed in Nicaragua, is reported to have been "expelled from the country, almost a year after he was sentenced to 26 years and four months in prison on unfounded charges of conspiracy against the state.
According to a government statement on 14 January, he was one of 19 Roman Catholic political prisoners being 'sent' to the Vatican. Also among the group was Bishop Isidoro del Carmen Mora Ortega, who was arrested on 20 December 2023 after telling his congregation that Nicaragua's bishops were ‘united in prayer’ for Bishop Álvarez Lagos.
The Nicaraguan government thanked Pope Francis and other members of the Roman Catholic Church for ‘the very respectful and discreet coordination carried out to make possible the trip to the Vatican’ for the group, which also included 15 priests and two seminarians.
Alvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, was jailed after he forcefully criticized the government's deadly response to mass protests in 2018. He was placed under house arrest on 19 August 2022, and then, on 10 February 2023, he was sentenced to 26 years and four months in prison in what has been referred to as 'a summary trial'.
The bishop was stripped of his Nicaraguan nationality and despite appeals for his release, he was not included in a group of 12 political prisoners – all Roman Catholic priests – released to Rome in October 2023.
The government has not issued any statements explaining any alleged crimes committed by the priests or reasons for their arrests but since the protests five years ago, Ortega has accused church leaders of seeking to overthrow his government.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which campaigns for the rights of Christians facing persecution around the world, was following his case. Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said that while they welcoming the release of the 19 men, it should not be interpreted as a gesture of 'goodwill' by Nicaragua: "Bishop Álvarez Lagos, Bishop Mora Ortega and the 17 others have been forced to leave their country because the government compels those who are critical of the regime to choose between prison or exile."
The charity is continuing to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Nicaragua, for the restoration of citizenship for Bishop Álvarez Lagos and others who have been stripped of it, and for the international community to hold President Ortega to account.
(additional reporting by Premier).